Sermon Commentary for Sunday, May 17, 2020
1 Peter 3:13-22 Commentary
Many of this Sunday’s Epistolary Lesson’s proclaimers and hearers live in among the freest countries in the history of the world. What’s more, our post post post-modern culture is fascinated with all things spiritual and religious.
Yet at least some of us are nervous about giving free and interested people “the reason for the hope we have” (15).
So it’s hard to imagine how challenging 1 Peter 3’s summons were to his first audience whose suffering for their faith was growing.
Of course, the apostle structures verse 13 so as to expect a negative answer to its question, “Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? After all, most people most of the time applaud doing good.
However, good is not always rewarded, in part because Christians have introduced a new claim into the “doing good equation.” We profess that we do good because Christ is Lord not just over our lives, but also over the whole creation. We profess this world belongs not to the strongest, or best armed, but to our God.
However, that claim irritates those who assume they run our world. So how do powerful people and groups respond? They sometimes meet good with evil. Things like the recent slaughter of members of wedding party of Kenyan Christians by religious extremists remind us that some people cause people who do “good” to suffer.
The natural reaction to such unjust suffering is to ask why it happens. Yet we don’t usually ask those who cause the suffering why they do it. Instead we ask God or other Christians why God lets good people suffer.
No one who proclaims this Sunday’s Epistolary Lesson will answer that question in the course of a single message or lesson. Yet in calling those who “suffer for what is right” “blessed,” Peter echoes Jesus’ claim that those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake are somehow “blessed.” He also echoes Jesus’ apostles’ rejoicing that “they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace” for Jesus’ sake.
Yet we sometimes struggle to define what it means to be “blessed.” To be “blessed” includes having everything we really need, even in the midst of suffering. However, to blessed is also to realize that God has graciously adopted us as God’s beloved sons and daughters.
Of course, even Jesus’ followers still share some of our neighbors’ fears. We too fear the current pandemic. We too fear its affects on our loved ones, and our nation and world’s well-being, as well as ourselves. We also fear our loved ones losing their emotional and spiritual way. We too fear the degradation our climate seems to experience.
But while we share at least some of others’ fears, Christians don’t have to let those fears control us. Fear doesn’t have to intimidate those who are blessed, who belong to God in body and in soul, in life and in death. Christians don’t have to let fear rule our lives. Lots of people and things join fear in vying for the central place in our hearts and lives. Yet the more we let them rule us, the more we’ll be afraid. They are, after all, endlessly cruel and demanding slaveowners.
So the apostle invites his readers “set apart Christ as Lord” (15), to put Christ in charge of our lives again and again. To acknowledge his supremacy in our kitchens, living rooms and bedrooms. We let him take charge of our work and our play, our waking and sleeping.
In verse 15 Peter suggests that part of letting Christ be Lord is being ready to talk to our neighbors about why we live the way we live. Always be prepared, he says, to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.
That’s stirring invitation’s beating heart is the concept of “hope.” Human hope generally deals in the realm of possibilities and probabilities. By contrast, Christian hope is guaranteed. So when we talk about Christian hope, we talk about God’s promises on which we can completely rely. People may only hope it rains tomorrow. But God’s dearly beloved people can know that God will go with us wherever we go tomorrow.
So those who proclaim I Peter 3 this Sunday might explore “hope” with our hearers. What gives lives meaning? That the best is yet to come? That death will someday die right along with pandemics, sadness, crying and pain? That death is just a doorway to eternal life in the new earth and heaven? And, in the context of the current pandemic, what is Christian hope?
Peter calls his readers to be prepared to talk about that hope to the people who ask. To be ready to talk about our hope to that friend who just doesn’t quite get us or that family member who no longer cares to get us.
Be ready, says the apostle, to talk about your hope to that boss who cares most about the bottom line and the co-worker who cares about nothing but herself. Be ready to talk about your hope at the gym and playground. Be ready to talk about your hope when you enter the delivery room and when you enter hospice care.
But especially, the apostle seems to suggest, be ready to respond to threats and abuse with a loving explanation of why we live the way we live. Tell those who want to harm you, Peter suggests, that it’s all about the hope Jesus Christ has given us.
But what do we say? While to some of us the answer comes easily, to others it comes less naturally. After all, Peter’s talking about making the kind of well-prepared case a lawyer might make in a courtroom.
For most of God’s adopted children, our hope is deeper and richer than just John 3:16 or Psalm 23, for example. So for some of us limiting our expression of our hope to them is a bit like a lawyer walking into a courtroom without having done her homework.
Those who have hope in Jesus Christ think through what God has done and promises to do for us. In other words, those who want to explain the hope God gives us personalize our testimony ahead of time, so that we’re ready when people ask us about our hope.
Originally Peter was asking slaves with cruel masters. Now he asks people in dead-end jobs and dying lives to explain why we have hope. Yet since that’s not easy for some of us to do, perhaps I Peter 3’s readers might take the time to practice with those who share our hope so that we’re more prepared to share it with those who don’t.
Of course, we’ve watched such testimonies shrink into indecent psychological exposure or self-absorbed bluster. But that ought not stop us from talking to each other about what God has done and is doing.
Not long after another doctor diagnosed my cancer, I visited one of my eye doctors. While I suspect he’s not a Christian, he knows I’m a pastor. He asked me, “How do you reconcile your work for God with getting such a serious illness?” In other words, “What’s the reason for your hope in the face of this disease?”
I was prepared to give answers about my disease and prognosis. But I wasn’t yet ready to give an answer to someone who asked for the reason for the hope I have. So I mumbled something like, “I believe my illness is precisely the kind of suffering Jesus came to eventually destroy.”
Many of you can articulate the reasons for the hope you have better than I did. I could now do that better than when I was first diagnosed. But we all share one thing: God has given us hope through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We just need to be ready to talk about it in genuine and pleasant ways.
Since my colleague Marv could talk to almost anyone about the hope God has given him, I once begged him to tell me his secret. He said he always makes sure to read three sections in the newspaper. (Today he probably reads them online). Can you guess what Marv reads? The Sports section. The business section. And the comics.
Marv understood that many guys were at least traditionally interested in at least one of those things. So he used his knowledge of what interests men to tailor his sharing of his hope to those who ask him about it.
But, of course, that requires spending time thinking not just about our family members and friends, but also our hope. We spend time not just thinking about our jobs and futures, but also our hope. What’s more, we spend time not just thinking about our worries and ourselves but also our culture.
The Spirit can use that to prepare us to share the reasons for our hope with “everyone who asks” us. That, however, also at least suggests we need an invitation to share our faith. That may come as a bit of a relief to some of us.
However, it also makes us wonder if our faith is visible enough to provoke such questions. Are we interested enough in others to live in a way that encourages them to be interested in Jesus Christ?
Yet as we prepare to talk about our hope, Peter also calls us to ask ourselves how we can share it with “gentleness and respect.” In a world that often expresses its opinion shrilly, angrily and disrespectfully, Christians learn to share our hope with love not just for the God who gives us hope, but also with love for those who ask about our hope.
God’s adopted sons and daughters don’t want to make it more difficult for the Spirit to do the Spirit’s work by failing to love people. So we’re always ready to gladly share our reasons for the hope we have with gentleness and respect.
Few things make at least some Christians more nervous than the giving what Peter calls “the reason for the hope we have” (15) in appropriate and helpful ways. Surveys once asked volunteers at a training session for a Billy Graham crusade, “What is your greatest hindrance to witnessing?”
9% answered they were too busy to remember to do it. 28% said they felt they lacked the necessary information to share their faith. 12% said the greatest hindrance to their witnessing was the poor quality of their Christian lives. However, 51% of respondents said their biggest problem with sharing their faith was their fear of how those with whom they shared it would react.
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